US delays payment for damaged Tubbataha Reef
MANILA - The U.S. government continues to withhold payment to the Philippines for damage caused by a U.S. Navy ship to a protected reef in January this year because of a case filed by some groups, a government spokesman said Wednesday.
"I think the United States side is just waiting for the resolution of that...case before the Supreme Court. But they have told us time and time again that they are willing to pay," said Raul Hernandez, spokesman of the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department.
A Philippine agency has demanded that the United States pay 58.4 million pesos (about $1.5 million) for the primary damage left by the USS Guardian on 2,345 square meters of the World Heritage Site-declared Tubbataha Reef in the country's Sulu Sea southeast of Palawan province.
The U.S. Navy mine countermeasures ship was leaving the Philippines after a port visit when it ran aground at a portion of the marine protected area on Jan. 17.
In April, various groups filed a case before the high tribunal against officers of the vessel and asked that U.S. military ships be barred from entering Philippine territory, among others, in the absence of clear environmental guidelines.
The Supreme Court, however, has yet to rule on the petition.
Edilberto Adan, an officer of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States, said that if not for "certain groups that think they can do more," the Philippines would have already been compensated by the United States.
"The U.S. government expressed readiness to compensate. In fact, there is a list of projects that they were willing to undertake to assist our agencies to rehabilitate the reef, and provide expertise, in addition to certain compensation," Adan said.
"However, a case was filed by a certain group. So, because there is a case that needed to be resolved first, the U.S. stopped from acting on it," he added.